Product Developers Need to Shift to an All-Digital Mindset

  • Written By: Ajay Chavali and Kevin Prendeville, Accenture
  • Published: June 3 2014

Over the past several decades, processes to design and build cars, airplanes, and products used in various other industries have typically followed a linear, sequential path. This process typically started with product research, ideation, and concept development, followed by design and development, prototype and validation, leading to production, launch, operation, and, eventually, product retirement.

Although widely used and straightforward, the linear approach to product development and design has started to reveal serious limitations. One of the most vexing and prevalent challenges has been the inefficient flow of information throughout this process. For example, the people launching the product into the market frequently have not found out quickly enough about changes made by engineers to the product’s design. This often wreaks havoc with the process, slows product deliveries, and lowers customer satisfaction. These problems have been particularly acute in the aerospace and defense industry. Major airplane programs have been late to market by more than 3 years, costing the industry billions of dollars.

To remedy the situation, product development groups are shifting to a more holistic digital mindset using digital business models, processes, and tools. To be clear, use of digital technology, per se, is not new. In the 1990s, for example, aerospace and automotive manufacturers embraced digital tools for automated product development. What is new, however, is that product developers are increasingly strategizing and executing their product development, manufacturing, and product launches from an all-digital perspective—leveraging smarter technologies, more useful data, and better insights.

Accenture addressed this digital mindset in a report titled Accenture Tech Vision 2014: Data Supply Chain—Putting Information Into Circulation. The report pointed out that companies are taking a new approach to collecting data, designing their applications with their biggest strategic questions in mind. They don’t just collect data; they design systems to get the right data.

By embracing digital like never before, product developers will become fully integrated digital businesses and, therefore, well positioned to be more competitive.

What is the new digital model?

Operating within this new paradigm, product developers are moving toward a mutually reinforcing, much more integrated digital model, with more frequent and varied information flow between processes. At the center of this network is digital product lifecycle management (PLM). PLM encompasses all the processes involved in product development, ranging from engineering, product development, supply chain management, manufacturing, services, and marketing. PLM processes span original conception of a product through its servicing phase until it ceases operations. Digital PLM elevates these PLM processes to higher levels of efficiency, productivity, and intelligence than the previous linear model.

Conceptually, picture a square configuration with digital PLM in the center. Surrounding this central hub on all four sides are all the processes previously used for traditional linear product development, en­compas­sing the product concept stage through product retirement. This results in a highly interactive network with many more inter-connections than the linear model. The key difference, and inherent advantage, is information can flow back and forth more directly and efficiently between the central hub and all surrounding processes. This allows for faster and more varied back-and-forth transmission of data, sharper insights, and, ultimately, better decisions.

Compared with the linear model, a digital PLM manufacturing model is more rapid, scalable, intelligent, and connected. Capable of full-blown interactivity, these networks enable exceptional speed to market due to extraordinary planning and execution. They are scalable because they allow for seamless operations with unparalleled organization, flexibility, and customization. They are intelligent because they leverage analytics and smart applications. And they are connected because they offer real-time visibility throughout the supply chain. All this creates a more intelligent network than the linear model.

Product developers that migrate toward a digital PLM network can gain competitive advantages such as:
  • unprecedented visibility to improve performance throughout the product value chain;
  • broader availability of dispersed data combined with advanced analytics capabilities;
  • exponential scalability; and
  • dramatically reduced speed to market.

Trends driving digital PLM

Several technology trends are catalysts for digital PLM: analytics and big data, connected everything, mobile technology, cloud computing, and social media. Analytics and big data fuel data-driven insights and decisions. The connected everything trend enables end-to-end offerings using converging digital technologies that enable smart, connected products that span physical and digital realms. Mobile technology drives faster and better customer experiences. Cloud computing enhances the infrastructure for connected products and nimble product development that enables faster and more economical delivery. Social media drives more collaboration with customers and suppliers by leveraging insights.

Questions that digital PLM helps manufacturers bring forth

Below are a few of the questions that product developers should be asking themselves in light of the potential of digital PLM:

  • Do you use market or sales analytics and consumer feedback to guide your products and services portfolio decisions such as which products to nurture and sustain?
  • Do you leverage digital platforms to capture customer feedback and analytics, and loop that information back into your product development?
  • Do you use digital tools to collaborate across the company—engineering, supply chain, manufacturing and service—and simulate manufacturing processes?
  • Are you using “new” digital platforms, such as social media, customer forums, product information, and point-of-sale information, to generate new concepts and product ideas and to assist with product launches?
Digital PLM tools

Product developers can use various foundational digital PLM elements and tools to gain insight into their manufacturing processes and derive such benefits. Foundational elements include electronics documents, computer-aided-design models, computer-aided engineering and simulation, and electronic product development workflows. Tools required include innovation management, portfolio management, systems engineering, digital manufacturing and simulation, technology publications, and supplier collaboration.

Over the past several years, 3D printing, a type of manufacturing using digital models, has already proven of value in several manufacturing industries because it helps reduce production and development time. A major car manufacturer, for example, has used this method to dramatically reduce the time to produce new engine parts. As another example, an aerospace company has employed 3D printing to lower production costs of maintenance and service parts by millions of dollars.

The importance of software in driving digital PLM

How fast and how broadly this transition occurs depends on how fast software becomes much more tightly integrated with hardware. Manufacturers need to do this because software helps accelerate product manufacturing and creates intelligent and versatile digital systems.

Industry executives are aware of this. A new Accenture survey found aerospace and defense companies are likely to invest more in software used within PLM processes. An overwhelming majority of respondents, 81 percent, said that software-oriented application lifecycle management capabilities are important, and 75 percent said that integrating these capabilities with hardware-oriented PLM is equally important.

Final thoughts

Industry is riding a new technology and business wave that will be significantly different than previous norms. Every business is a digital business, and product development is going digital from end to end. Broader use of PLM can play a critical role in achieving high performance. Product developers increasingly will want to think about their product development and launch value chain, as well as their businesses, from a digital perspective. As that occurs, manufacturers’ key strategic decisions and investments also should be made through that prism as they seek to become digital in every way.

Ajay Chavali is a senior manager with Accenture’s Innovation and Product Development practice. He can be reached at

Kevin Prendeville is a managing director with Accenture’s Product Lifecycle Services practice. He can be reached at
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